The Shelter Island boys varsity basketball team felt this might be the year to win a Class “D” County Championship. It’s what they worked hard for the past three years under the guidance of Coach Jay Card Jr.. Most of the seniors played basketball throughout the year, spring, summer and fall and winter. This is a sport that they embraced and their goal was to qualify and win a championship. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t meant to be this year, as they lost in the finals to Smithtown Christian 57-37 on Feb. 14.
The finals were held at neighboring East Hampton High School and Shelter Island fans came out to support their team. Coach Card and the team wanted to thank the hundreds of fans who were cheering for their Indian team.
Shelter Island came into the game riding a five-game winning streak, with wins over both Smithtown Christian and Southold. Both of these teams ended up winning their Class “D” and Class “C” Championship games on Valentine’s Day. Southold came from behind to beat the undefeated League 8 Champions, Pierson, overcoming a 12-point deficit with just 3 minutes remaining in the game. The Settlers outscored the Whalers 17-3 in the closing 3 minutes of the 4th quarter to earn the Class “C” Championship.
The Shelter Island game started off well, with senior Lucas Quigley-Dunning hitting a 17-foot baseline jump shot to give the Indians the 2-0 lead. But that was the Indians only lead of the game. Although the team was down 13-6 after the first quarter and 26-14 at halftime, the team was confident at halftime. Overall, they had played fairly good defense in the first half but a miserable offense. The Indians are usually a decent shooting team but not on this evening. The second half was no exception, the ball would not drop, not even from the free throw line. The Indians did manage to get to the free throw line early in the second half but missed 12 opportunities to convert them into points. The team shot their lowest percentage from behind the arc. But some real credit has to go to the Knight’s defensive effort.
The Indians did have a couple of opportunities in the second half, as senior center Walter Richards managed to reduce a 14-point deficit to just 8, scoring 8 points during an 8-2 run, closing the score to 30-22. Then the Knight’s John Evers hit a big 3-point shot and the Indians responded with a 3-point make from Keith Taplin, closing it to 33-25.
The Indians never got any closer as Josh Mangum drove the lane and dished the ball to Gabe Gibson on numerous possessions. Gibson scored a career high 27 points and Mangum added 10 points and nine assists. That combination proved to be the difference in the game, especially in the second half. The Knights went 10 of 14 from the free throw line and the Indians were uncharacteristically just 10 of 27.
Once again, Quigley-Dunning was high scorer for Shelter Island with 14 points. Richards had 11 points and battled hard under the basket for numerous rebounds prior to fouling out of the game at the 4:29 mark of the fourth quarter. Senior Keith Taplin finished with 5 points.
The team was disappointed with the outcome and it was in full display in the locker room after the game. The players felt they had let the fans down, but the effort was there throughout this game, as well as throughout the season. The team had been fighting an ankle injury to their best player and sickness from several key players on the team. It was difficult to prepare when the team was not 100%, which became apparent late in the game.
Nevertheless, for those who followed this team for the entire year, they became much-improved, earning a second place finish in their league. The players always exercised good sportsmanship on the court.
For us in the coaching profession, that’s the thing we are most proud of. This was a team that played hard, played by the rules, learned to control their emotions on the court, and often picked up an opponent up off the floor. Although the season ending game was frustrating for the players, coaching staff and fans, it didn’t negate the wonderful season the team provided to all its Shelter Island fans.
Next week, we’ll provide a highlight story of the season, as well as announce the awards earned by some of our players.